A growing number of eco-entrepreneurs are using technology and social media to connect people who want to work together to tread lightly on the planet.
It’s been ten years since iPhones started appearing in our hands. Facebook is barely ten years old. Other tech giants like Google, Microsoft and Amazon have been around for longer but have expertly extended their influence over every part of our lives during the last decade. The pace of change is exponential.
This relentless connectedness presents huge opportunities for businesses and social enterprises who are trying to solve some of the big challenges in the food system. Over this series, we profile three enterprises that are harnessing the power of technology to address these problems.
CROP SWAP AUSTRALIA
Laurie Green is a keen permaculturalist. In 2015, despite the fact that she had a young child, a busy job, a mortgage and all the others pressures that come from life in Australia’s biggest, most expensive city, she was keen to grow her own food. She was good at it, too. So good that she had an oversupply of produce. Even after she had canned, pickled and preserved in every way she could think of, she still had too much. Not wanting her efforts to go to waste, she actively looked for people who would take the excess produce from her garden.
‘I actually ended up trying to give away heirloom tomato seedlings one summer. I could see veggie patches so I’d doorknock. You spend so long raising these things you don’t want them to be wasted,’ she says. She looked around at the apps that already existed to connect growers but found them a bit impersonal. Although they worked well in their own right, what she wanted to do was create something that connected and consolidated whole communities.
So she established a Facebook group called Crop Swap Sydney where people could list their excess backyard produce and find others to swap with. ‘People came and they came in droves’ she recalls, slightly surprised by the success of the movement. Now there is an umbrella company called Crop Swap Australia, that manages 13 groups across the country. The Crop Swap community has grown to over 17000 in the two years that she has been coordinating it.
Laurie was keen for her venture to be personal. The Facebook community is where many people start, but there are also Crop Swap events across the country where excess produce is bartered and exchanged. Members often cheerfully give away their excess fruit and vegetables just to prevent waste. This makes Crop Swap, which is free to join, a valuable asset to low-income communities. Not only does it prevent food waste, it gets healthy food into the hands of people who can least afford it and strengthens the ties within the community. There are five groups in Tasmania that are run by locals, with Crop Swap Australia providing help with the social media promotion, and another seven sprinkled across the country.
Although Crop Swap Australia provides the online support, they simply collect, harness and facilitate the energy that already exists within communities. Laurie sees a bright future for Crop Swap, and though things may slow down with the imminent birth of her second child, there are more local groups starting in 2018. “We want to build more free local networks to give people the chance to eat better, cheaper food and allow them to be more self-sufficient.”
Find Crop Swap here: